Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Tutoring firm barred from schools

Ohanian Comment: I know nothing about Alpha Academy, and it seems very unfortunate that they don't know enough about teaching children to read to know the value of comic books. People who damn comic book reading are ignorant of the potentials offered by this genre.

As Jim Trelease observes in The Read-Aloud Handbook a study of more than 200,000 children in 32 countries, found that the nation with students with the highest reading scores--Finland--also had the highest number of children who read comics almost every day. Trelease points out that comics use the same complex language as books but break it up into more manageable chunks and thus serve as a bridge between picture books and novels. People who want to ban comics would do well to read Trelease.

As I point out in my book The Great Word Catalogue: FUNdamental Activities for Building Vocabulary, in a study of "rare words per 1000," Hayes & Ahrens (1988) show that the oral language of college graduates as the low--17.3 rare words per 1000, and the abstracts of scientific articles as the high--128 rare words per 1000. Most provocatively. TV cartoons rate higher than prime time TV and comic books introduce more new words than do adult books. Bring in the comic books for vocabulary enhancement!

Rare Words per 1000

college graduates 17.3
scientific articles 128.0
adult books 52.7
comic books 53.5
children's books 30.9
cartoon shows 30.8
prime-time TV shows 22.7

Hayes, D. P. and M. G. Ahrens. "Vocabulary Simplification for Children: A Case of 'Motherese'." Journal of Child Language 37: 395-410, 1988.

By Mary MacDonald

A Kennesaw-based tutoring company has been barred from working with Georgia students under the No Child Left Behind Act after a state investigation found that its tutors had allowed children to read comic books and surf the Web.

Alpha Academy, a private, for-profit tutoring company, operates in several metro Atlanta counties, including Cobb and Gwinnett. Parents in those school systems filed the complaints that triggered the state review.

Thousands of Georgia children qualify for free after-school tutoring under the federal education reform law. The tutoring is paid for with federal dollars, and companies bill the school systems directly. Children may qualify if they attend a school that has consistently failed to meet state testing goals. Preference is given to low-income children.

Alpha Academy, one of 124 tutoring services that had been approved this year by the state Board of Education, was removed from the list of approved companies Thursday. The board voted after reviewing several complaints and a report by a state monitor who conducted two site visits.

Alpha Academy's director, Sandra Ward, disputed the findings and said she plans to appeal. She questioned whether the monitor who visited one tutoring location, at the Lilburn public library, had observed the academy's clients or other children. "They were not my students," Ward said.

The company tutors about 100 students of all ages, about half of them children who are coached in reading and mathematics through the No Child Left Behind program, Ward said.

Such state sanctions are rare. Only one other company has been removed as an approved tutoring service, said Jud Turner, general counsel for the Georgia Department of Education.

According to a report to the state board, three complaints two this year and one last year were made against Alpha Academy:

A school system said parents had complained that the academy failed to provide the amount of tutoring billed or had requested payment for tutoring that was not provided.

A second accusation said the academy failed to provide qualified tutors and employed teenagers.

Two school systems forwarded complaints from parents who said their children were told to read independently or were left free to roam around the tutoring site or engage in "nonacademic activities" on computers.

Ward said all the complaints included erroneous information. She said she planned to produce documentation for the state board to vindicate the company.

The state's monitor, who was not identified in the report, conducted an announced visit to the tutoring site at the Lilburn library on Saturday, May 14. The monitor watched children reading and "engaged in activities" on the computer from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. but did not witness any tutoring. At 1:30 p.m., after returning, the monitor observed the tutor reviewing a work sheet while a student read a comic book.

A follow-up visit was conducted two days later at Alpha Academy's home office.

For one Cherokee County parent, the removal of the company is a disappointment. Sherry West, whose daughter received tutoring two years ago, said she had no

— Mary MacDonald
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.